Farm and farmworker leaders are urging the state, and Gov. Jerry Brown, to support healthy and green farming without the use of methyl iodide. The pesticide, which is used in growing strawberries, is said to cause cancer, late-term miscarriages and contamination of groundwater.
On Feb. 22, the Assembly Health and Assembly Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials Committees held a joint oversight hearing on how the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) ignored the California Scientific Review Committee and rushed to approve methyl iodide in December.
Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger authorized the registration of the pesticide as he left office.
DPR registered methyl iodide as a substitute for the pesticide methyl bromide, which is being phased out by an international treaty because it depletes the Earth's protective ozone layer.
Officials with Ayrsta LifeScience Corp., the company that produces the chemical, are currently training workers on how to use the fumigant. California farmers are expected to begin using the pesticide this spring.
In January, environmentalists and farmworker advocates filed a lawsuit against DPR. A trial date has not been set.
Paul Towers, state director of Pesticide Watch, said he is hopeful that farmers and other agencies will work collectively for safer farming methods.
"It's really clear that industry influenced the decision to register the pesticide," Towers said. "The state was under intense pressure from chemical companies and lobbyists."
Dave Kranz, manager of communications for the California Farm Bureau Federation, said the Farm Bureau supported the registration of the pesticide because it protects the soil of young plants and trees.
"This is material that deserves special handling," Kranz said. "The restrictions on this pesticide in California are significantly more extensive than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards for it."
The new precautions include setting up buffer zones in which it cannot be applied and the use of special tarps to keep fumes from escaping the soil.
Forty-seven other states allowed the use of methyl iodide after the EPA approved of the chemical in 2007.
Martha Guzman-Acenes, legislative advocate with the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, called the approval of the pesticide disgraceful.
"Methyl iodide is much more toxic than others used," Guzman-Acenes said. "The fact that 47 other states approved of the fumigant is misleading because only three other states have reviews for pesticides, which means that the other states simply just follow the EPA standards."
Three other states that have state reviews of fumigants include New York, Washington and Florida; New York and Washington were the only two states to not register the toxin.
"Washington based its decision on California science," Guzman-Acenes said. "It's pathetic we're disregarding our own scientists. Registering the pesticide was a shameful thing to do."
Anne Katten, pesticide and work safety specialist for California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, said she is extremely concerned about farm workers.
"This toxin is not appropriate for use," Katten said. "These field workers are the people with the least access to health care in the state. This pesticide doesn't even begin to being safe."
ANGELA SWARTZ can be reached email@example.com.